The media don’t know what to make of Andy Ngo. The New York Times calls Ngo an “independent journalist.” CNN describes him as a “conservative journalist.” Other outlets term Ngo a “conservative writer” to distinguish him from actual reporters.
But none of these labels get at who Ngo is. More importantly, they fail to define his role in far-right politics, media, and violence. An incident from October 2018 in Portland, Oregon, illustrates his role well.
It begins with Portland police killing Patrick Kimmons, a 27-year-old African-American male, in disputed circumstances. The Black Lives Matter–style activist group, Don’t Shoot Portland, called for a protest on October 6. Kimmons’s family members joined in what local media described as a “peaceful” and uneventful event.
There was one dicey moment during the march. A driver made an illegal right turn into protesters who were in a crosswalk and had the walk sign. A local TV station that recorded the incident wrote: “driver plows through protesters.” Video shows a man stopping in front of a silver Lexus that then strikes him and pushes him for more than thirty feet. Down the block, a brief confrontation ensues with a protester shoving the driver once and others hitting his vehicle. The driver left in his car without any more incident as protesters yelled, “Get out of here.”
It was unremarkable. But another video of the incident began circulating where it is difficult to see the protester being struck, enabling false claims such as, “#ANTIFA Anarchists Threaten Elderly Driver in Portland!” The story jumped to Fox News with Tucker Carlson replaying the obscured video, blaming everyone from Antifa and Occupy ICE to the Washington Post, Maxine Waters, Hillary Clinton, and protesters yelling at Trump officials in restaurants. Carlson’s guest was Andy Ngo playing an expert on lax law enforcement in Portland in an affected British accent. The Wall Street Journal gave Ngo a platform where he omitted crucial evidence that the driver deliberately struck a protester, while hyping outrage of a “mob” of “angry, agitated ingrates and criminals” marching for a dead black criminal, attacking a lone elderly white victim.
It’s farcical. The only significant lawbreaking was by the driver, who could have been charged with vehicular assault. But in a city that’s become an epicenter of far-right violence, the white nationalist friendly Patriot Prayer leaped on the faux outrage for a “Flash march for law and order in PDX” a week later. The march degenerated into street battles between right-wing fighters and masked antifascists as downtown bargoers looked on confused. At least one right-wing brawler was caught on video stomping a person on the ground, but no arrests were ever made. One reporter said they were maced by Antifa for no reason.
But it didn’t end there. The flash march created new viral moments. A video of a left-wing activist harassing a woman claiming to be a 9/11 widow was posted days later to The Daily Caller, which was cofounded by Tucker Carlson. (The woman appears to have lied about being a 9/11 widow.) Efforts to doxx the man hurling invective resulted in a professional skateboarder from Portland being falsely identified and inundated with death threats. Eventually the man in the video was identified, which started a new round of harassment. One source says the social service agency that fired him over the video “was flooded with hundreds of harassing calls and Facebook messages that were explicitly racist and threatening to harm and kill staff.”
Carlson credited Ngo with publicizing the videos. Ngo was a bit player, but the incident bolstered him. The incident was an example of a disturbing media model for the Trump era: opportunists using biased reporting, social media, and wild accusations inflame vigilante and digital mobs to target “enemies” such as the media, Democrats, and left-wing activists. Figures like Carlson and Ngo reap followers, prominence, and income from the outrage and threats of violence. But to keep the ratings and the money flowing, the outrage machine must be cranked ever louder, risking greater violence.
One political organizer in Portland who has received death threats stemming from Ngo’s work says, “It’s an arms race for money, and the narrative isn’t the point — the grift is. The larger, more offensive thing you can do, the system rewards it.”
This appears to be Ngo’s model. He uses social media to push biased opinions in conjunction with selectively edited videos that play to the bigotry of his audience. His followers get worked up, and this is often followed by a deluge of threats against his subject.
Jacobin has talked to six people in Portland, including journalists, political officials, and activists, who described harassing messages and threats of violence resulting from Ngo’s work or political involvement in Portland. Friends of two other activists claim they went into hiding after Ngo spread their names and they became targets of harassment. Some individuals who’ve tangled publicly with Ngo are reluctant to go on the record. They say they want to avoid the “trauma” of being subjected to a new round of death threats.
In fact, Ngo appears to rely on people not speaking up about his effect on them. He often writes of how activists won’t talk to him or they take down social media profiles after he focuses on them, seeming to imply they have something to hide. What he doesn’t mention is many say they are doing so to avoid harassment and threats of violence.
Madison, a Portland activist who tracks Ngo, says, “Ngo signals this is a person that should be targeted, should be harassed, and should be threatened. Andy puts a target on them and that results in the person being doxxed. Andy is giving people explicit permission to unleash hatred and violence on people. He absolutely knows what he is doing.”
Ngo is so intertwined with the specter of violence I encountered it after just a Facebook post. I wrote a post with the headline, “Andy Ngo is no journalist.” The post was shared by notorious right-wing figure, Carl Benjamin, aka, “Sargon of Akkad,” who has been featured on Ngo’s podcast and was banned from YouTube for repeatedly “joking” about raping a British Labour MP. In the comments on Benjamin’s post were calls for violence against myself, Antifa, and others. Within hours I started receiving threats directly, such as “You’re a bunch of retards and it will be a glorious day when you all are dealt with,” and “You are a disgraceful liar. If you or anyone of your ilk throws even a fucking tissue at me or my family watch what the fuck happens to your family lol.”
Now this model threatens to turn deadly. On June 29, Andy Ngo was attacked in Portland while videoing a Patriot Prayer rally heavily outnumbered by Antifa. A video shows him being punched, kicked, and hit with coconut milkshakes and silly string by masked individuals. Within minutes, videos of the attack and of a beaten Ngo narrating the incident were picked up by right-wing media such as Breitbart that have a dodgy relationship to facts. Headlines screaming brutal assault, vicious assault, and vicious attack by Antifa on Ngo were pumped out.
The sensationalism breached the mainstream with CNN’s Jake Tapper sending out an ill-informed tweet above a video of Ngo being attacked, writing, “Antifa regularly attacks journalists; it’s reprehensible.”
In a bizarre twist, the Portland police threw fuel on the fire by tweeting that some milkshakes thrown on June 29 “contained quick-drying cement.” The police never provided evidence and observers, including journalists, noted that many counterprotesters drank the milkshakes, making it extremely unlikely anyone could have laced them with concrete. But amplified by conspiracy theorists like Jack Prosobiec, the tweet went viral, whereupon right-wing media turned the disinformation into fact and the mainstream press treated it as a credible assertion. The police tweet incited the Right further and the group that made the milkshakes was deluged with death threats. It culminated in the city being flooded with death threats. Days after Ngo was attacked, City Hall was evacuated after a bomb threat. One source inside City Hall says the mayor’s office received “insane vitriol” and every office was receiving threats, including almost 100 harassing calls that tied up emergency service dispatchers.
Far-right figures responded to the June 29 attack on Ngo with graphic threats, and plan to hold an “End Domestic Terrorism” and “End Antifa” rally in Portland on August 17. Such is the level of far-right anger that many in the city fear the rally could become another Charlottesville, or worse — given the anti-Latino murder spree in El Paso and other foiled white nationalist plots since then.
To be clear, the attack on Ngo should be condemned. It serves no political purpose, and the Left should not be attacking media makers, even if they use dicey methods. Some Antifa activists in Portland also admit the attack played into right-wing hands by elevating him.
That is exactly what’s happened. Trump has beatified Ngo as one of his sinless followers — “A single man standing there with a camera who never got hit and never hit back before in his life” — under assault from the “evil” Antifa full of “sick, bad people.”
But it would also be a mistake to see Ngo as an innocent or as a journalist, considering that whoever he turns his camera, social media, or pen on is at significant risk of being inundated with violent threats from the far right.
Shane Burley is author of Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It, and a Portland-based journalist who covered the June 29 rally. He says, “I would never condone what happened to Andy Ngo, but I think there is a reason why he got in a conflict with protesters and dozens of other reporters present seemed to be left alone.”
Burley says, “One way to think of Andy Ngo is he is part of a far-right mediasphere that creates victimization narratives of conservatism and profit from it. It’s all about the embattled American man who is under siege at every turn, whether its trans children, immigrant criminals, anchor babies, or dangerous college campuses. ‘They are all out to destroy us and our values.’ It’s an entire infrastructure that’s moved from commentary like National Review to populist media hucksters drumming up a controversy. Ngo doesn’t seem to have many real journalistic credentials, and any he does is from creating controversy. He gets in the Wall Street Journal and New York Post from being a conservative celebrity. His actual reporting is very infrequent and sparse.”
Ngo adds a new element in facilitating violence, intentionally or not. Burley says, “He appears to target ideological opponents, which can make them fair game for harassment and violent confrontation.” The scale of the threats keep escalating. Now Portland is bracing for the August 17 rally.
Killing in the Name of Free Speech?
For the last few years, the far right has used fascistic language about “cleansing” Portland, while its brawlers wore T-shirts proclaiming themselves kindred to South American death squads that killed thousands of leftists in the 1970s. But in advance of August 17, the language and memes from the far right have become more extreme. They’ve posted dozens of threats on social media pledging to kill Antifa and naming left-wing activists in Portland who should be shot during the End Antifa rally.
Individuals affiliated with Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys talk of wanting to “slaughter” Antifa. Others have posted hair-raising images of a Portland activist and his partner with crosshairs over their faces and the words, “End Domestic Terrorist’s [sic].” Another image is of a knife cutting the throat of an antifascist with blood spraying out. This is especially ominous. In April 2017 white supremacist Jeremy Christian attended a Patriot Prayer in Portland and threw Nazi salutes while yelling “Die Muslims!” Weeks later Christian allegedly slashed the throats of three men, killing two, after they came to the defense of two black teenage girls, one wearing a hijab, whom Christian threatened by saying, “Go home. We need America here!”
One organizer of the End Antifa rally is Joe Biggs, a former staffer at Alex Jones’s Infowars website who has “encouraged date rape and punching transgender people.” He shared an illustration for the rally of a Proud Boy punching an antifascist, warning, “Free speech was fought for and paid for with blood. It will not be lost for anything less!” Biggs, whose Twitter account was suspended recently, used the platform to advise his followers to bring guns and declared “DEATH TO ANTIFA!!!!!!”
After the FBI visited him, Biggs now says “he wants a peaceful demonstration and has told his followers to keep their weapons at home.”
But that may be too little, too late as the far right is encouraging potential mass shooters to come to the rally. Recently, Haley Adams, a provocateur in Portland who told a reporter last year, “Damn straight I support white pride,” said on Facebook she “couldn’t wait” to meet Thomas Bartram on August 17. Bartram is an Infowars fan who showed up in El Paso days after the anti-Hispanic massacre and was briefly detained after allegedly brandishing a gun and trying to enter a migrant solidarity center. The center claimed police did not search Bartram’s truck that was decked out with violent pro-Trump images, saying “he has rights.” After being released, Bartram told media he was headed to the End Antifa rally.
What connects these dots is Andy Ngo. He even did his bit to stoke right-wing paranoia in El Paso. In a July 29 tweet Ngo included an image of a flyer about an immigrant rights “border resistance tour.” Ngo claimed stick figures on the flyer represent “border enforcement officers being killed & government property fired bombed” as part of a plot by Antifa to “converge on a 10-day siege in El Paso, TX.” It’s been retweeted more than 11,000 times and hundreds of comments endorse violence against Antifa. Four days later Patrick Crusius allegedly killed twenty-two people in an El Paso Walmart in “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Ngo’s ascendancy began as an editor at the Portland State University newspaper, The Vanguard. At a university interfaith panel convened in April 2017, Ngo tweeted a brief video claiming, “the Muslim student speaker said that apostates will be killed or banished in an Islamic state.” The entire clip shows the student gave a long answer in response to a hypothetical question about Quranic law. The panelists stressed they weren’t experts, and the Muslim student later said “he may have misspoke.”
Ngo’s tweet was picked up by Breitbart. The Vanguard fired him days later for a “dangerous oversimplification that violated very clear ethics outlined by the Society of Professional Journalists.” The Vanguard said Ngo’s actions “placed a PSU student in significant danger.” Ngo twisted his termination into an article for The National Review, “Fired for Reporting the Truth,” which the student paper said was a “misrepresentation” that resulted in “unjust threats” against them.
Critics see this episode as establishing a pattern in Ngo’s work: using charged language and selective facts on social media that stoke bigotry, putting his subject at risk of harassment while boosting his own reach and status. It worked because in 2018 Ngo graduated to writing a “racist” and “massively Islamophobic” travelogue to two Islamic communities in England for the Wall Street Journal.
But it’s in the city of Portland and state of Oregon that Ngo calls home where the most damage has been wrought. Zakir Khan is board chair of the Oregon chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy and civil rights organization. Khan says of Ngo, “That guy is obsessed with us.”
Ngo has tweeted dozens of times about CAIR, saying it “has done PR for terrorists & their families.” He characterized CAIR’s representation of the surviving child of the Muslim couple who committed the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino as advocating for “the terrorists’ orphaned baby.”
Recently, in a sprawling New York Post opinion Ngo claimed a “suspicious rise” in gay hate crimes in Portland fits a pattern of hoaxes. (Ngo found space in his 2,100-word article to quote a member of the Proud Boys, which experts call a “gang” notorious for violence, as “the most welcoming organization that I have ever been a part of.”)
Khan says, “We are seen as experts on hate crimes reform, so I questioned Ngo’s groundless claims of ‘hate-crime hoaxes.’ He is not an expert in the field.” Ngo responded by accusing CAIR of “terrorism” and “terror.”
After the exchange with Ngo, Khan says, “We received dozens of threatening and harassing messages. We weren’t able to log them all.” One post that tagged Ngo, as well as Michelle Malkin (who signal boosts Ngo and started a “Protect Andy Ngo” fundraiser after the June 29 attack that netted him nearly $200,000), read, “CAIR IS HAMAS! If you stand with your Muslem neighbors; prepare to die with your Muslem neighbors. We will take our country back![sic]” Ngo frequently claims that Hamas, the governing authority in Gaza, is connected to CAIR.
The irony of all this is that after CAIR challenges Ngo’s claim of hate crime hoaxes, he responds with what could be considered hate speech, accusing them of terrorism. This appears to have incited his followers to threaten and harass CAIR, actions which might qualify as hate crimes.
For his next act, Ngo joined Quillette where he is a “sub-editor.” Described as the voice of the intellectual dark web, Quillette published a report on May 29 claiming fifteen reporters who cover the far right were really “Antifa journalists.” According to the Columbia Journalism Review, the article by “estabished right-wing troll,” Eoin Lenihan, was picked up by the neo-Nazi Stormfront website within a day, and a day after that a video was uploaded to YouTube containing “imagery of mass shooters intercut with images of the [Antifa] reporters.” The names of the journalists were put on a list called “Sunset the Media,” while the video ends with a notorious neo-Nazi saying he won’t “disown” anyone who kills the reporters.
Two journalists, including Shane Burley, wrote of the unnerving effect of being put on a Neo-Nazi death list. Another targeted journalist wrote that Quillette had crossed the line from being merely reactionary to “reckless endangerment” and bluntly stated that its list “could’ve gotten me killed.”
The article was so shoddy, Lenihan was suspended from Twitter. But Ngo promoted the article and more significantly continues to promote it — just as eight months after the fact, Ngo continued to claim that striking the protester from the Patrick Kimmons march is really evidence of Antifa taking their anger out on an elderly man.
In at least one instance it appears Ngo has doxxed activists himself. During May Day 2019, Ngo published a YouTube video that included him talking to members of the Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America who were tabling for “Hands Off Venezuela.” The entire time Ngo points his camera at a sign-in sheet, not the person he is interviewing. In the video the sheet is digitally blurred. However, Connor Smith, a Portland DSA member, provided a still from what he claims is an earlier version of the video. The still includes a watermark of Ngo’s twitter handle, “@MrAndyNgo,” exactly the same as in the YouTube video. Eleven names can be seen on the sign-in sheet, including Smith’s, all of which have visible email addresses and six of which include phone numbers. Smith says at least one person on the list received threatening messages such as “Die commie.”
Smith claims it is a common right-wing tactic to doxx people on social media like YouTube and Twitter and then delete the offending material before it is removed for violating the platform’s rules. He says this cat-and-mouse game achieves the results the far right is looking for. “I’m sure some fascist has put all our names and phone numbers in a list.”
Ngo is more of a symptom, however.
Ngo couldn’t exist without social media companies which turn a blind eye to right-wing violence because having to monitor their platforms for hate speech would cut into their profits. Ngo also needs Murdoch-owned media such as the New York Post, Wall Street Journal, and Fox News that allow him to masquerade his bigotry as journalism. These outlets, in turn, are amplified by the larger landscape of mainstream media, which often fail to distinguish between fact-based journalism and pro-Trump, white nationalistic propaganda. Add in police who collaborate with the far right and weak political leaders, as in Portland, and you have all the conditions needed for opportunists like Andy Ngo to grab the spotlight.
Ngo is just the latest inflammatory right-wing agent in Portland who’s tried to vault to the big leagues. Before him was Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson, who has seen his ranks of violent white nationalists dwindle due to infighting and long-overdue arrests.
Way back in 2016, before Gibson, was another media provocateur, Michael Strickland. Strickland shot his YouTube career — which mainly featured him doxxing and harassing local activists — in the foot after he pulled a gun on a Black Lives Matter protest while being armed with enough ammunition for a massacre.
That’s not to say the Left should ignore the likes of Andy Ngo or even Tucker Carlson. They are both the cause and effect of white nationalism and the violence that comes with it. Their synergy is also a reflection of the complex digital landscape. Legacy media like the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and even Fox News need Andy Ngo just as much as he needs them. They gave him a platform not for his shoddy reporting and tired bigotry, but for the audience he’s amassed, even if it’s a digital lynch mob.